When you were growing up (or maybe, like the rest of us, you still are), do you remember someone who was the “class clown”? Middle School and High School are complicated times for everyone, but some teens seek out attention any way that they can. There are those who try to be funny (especially when the teacher is trying to be serious), and those who act out in inappropriate ways (with correspondingly unfavorable consequences). Still, the idea of getting people to notice you – even if the attention is negative – is not a new one. After all, you may have heard the saying in marketing, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”.
Today, though, the stage upon which people try to gain attention has changed. Our “audience” (those upon whom we can make an impression) is no longer limited to our circle of friends, our classmates, fellow workers, or even those who walk by a certain street corner. Instead, the whole world watches as human beings vie for attention on the Internet. Why try to impress those nearby (especially when they already know us) when we can get likes and follows online? As has always been the case, some people attract attention for doing good things (whether unusual feats of skill or unexpected kindness to others), while others gain notoriety for all the wrong things (whether accidentally or intentionally).
The problem, though, is that sometimes we try to do the same, and get stuck in a rut. We might not get a million likes, but maybe we get a couple more than one of our online “friends”. We search for a hit of dopamine – that feel-good chemical in our brain – as we search through comments on our posts for one that tells us we’re pretty great (even if the picture that we posted was staged, edited, or scraped from a Gap catalog). Like all addictions, though, it may feel good for the moment, but it doesn’t last. We need more and more and more.
Even as the scope and form of attention-getting changes over time, though, it’s really not a new thing. All the way back in Genesis 4:23-24, a guy named Lamech bragged to his wives (yes, he had two of them) about what he had done, and it wasn’t really something to be proud of.
Consider Jesus’ description of certain religious leaders in the first century from Matthew 23, including this verse:
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;
Matthew 23:5 NIV
For these show-offs, it was all about the appearance. (Phylacteries and tasseled garments were elements of their attire that they used to look pious.) They may not have racked up views on YouTube, or likes on Facebook, but they were trying to be influencers in their culture. And, they weren’t necessarily trying to influence others to become better people (or even to buy something). Instead, they were attempting to boost their own fame. I envision them straining to hear someone whisper to another observer, “Wow! He is so good at praying. Look at all of that holy stuff he’s wearing. I bet he’s really righteous.”
As we learn from Jesus’ conversations with (and about) this sort of people, though, we find that all of this attention-seeking was pretty useless when it came to God. God didn’t want people who looked religious. Rather, like Jesus described in Matthew 5-7, righteousness came from the heart (not from public recognition). In fact, in Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus – in His perfect wisdom – instructed His followers to not let on about the good that they were doing.
So, let’s back up a little bit. Why wouldn’t Jesus’ followers want to get attention from others for their good works? After all, shouldn’t other people see how great it is to be part of Jesus’ family? If we show off a little bit so that others can see, won’t they want to join us (or be like us)? If we hide the struggles of the Christian walk, while only posting about the good things, won’t that make Jesus more attractive?
In reality, I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t create a secular marketing plan to save the world. Instead, as we read the teachings of Jesus, we find that our primary identity isn’t found in an audience of other people (whether nearby, or online around the world). From early in the Bible, we realize that all of us are sinful human beings, and trying to impress each other is not going to reap very good results. If we look for our affirmation only from other people (especially strangers), they are going to let us down, as they grow tired of us and move on to something else, or just fail to acknowledge our self-perceived greatness.
The good news is that there is another who not only sees all that we do, but this person already loves us (and will continue to love us). When He – God – is our audience, as our lives are guided by Him, other people may very well be impressed with the love and humility with which we serve and teach others, but that can’t be our starting point.
As a result, there’s really no reason to invest our time and energy into trying to impress other people. So, the next time you are tempted to start into your next doomscroll, or even to post something new, take a moment to think about why you are doing it. Is it for the glory of God, or for the glory of you? Are you looking for someone to help, or someone to make you feel better about yourself (whether because they flatter you, or because they are worse off than you are)?
After all, the One who we are seeking to glorify isn’t online. Maybe it’s time to switch off the phone, tablet, computer, television, or video game console, and seek out the God who actually makes us valued. Have a look at His creation (the real thing – not a two-dimensional sketch or a grainy landscape pic from an old phone camera), and appreciate that He is the only one who truly knows us. We can be happy with one, divine “Like” on our lives (see Matthew 25:21).
Originally written to accompany the July 2021 sermon series, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”, at First Christian Church, Canton, OH. Republished by permission.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.